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Czech Republic


                                       Telc, Czech Republic - July 2000

                                   The Reverend Doctor James Wiberg


Friday one of my Christ Care Group leaders called to invite us to join them for the day on a trip to the Czech Republic. Since the calendar had no appointments for the day Luray and I quickly agreed so we met our hosts at the "Little Russian Church" adjacent to the United Nations Center just across the Danube River and headed up the Autobahn toward Prague. By eleven in the morning we already had crossed the border having taken a lesser used crossing and found ourselves in the most delightful little village of Telcsh.   The border between Austria and Hungary which winds along the Thaya River is separated by a large forest which is now a national park.

During the days of the Iron Curtain, the Communists had established a "no-man's land" on their side of this curvy river.  At our crossing there was one only two border guards to check our passports on the Austrian side and two on the Czech side, a pretty "cushy" job I would say, since there were only a couple of cars traveling this route when we went through.   The normal crossing on the way to Prague will sometimes back up a line of traffic about three miles long, especially when bargain hunters from Vienna head out for the weekend in the Czech Republic..

As we approached the town we entered from a road which brought us right to the entrance of the old city castle. Built on a site where the river forms a “horseshoe” the town is naturally protected by water  except for the opening at the top end of the “shoe” Here the old high wall is still much in view.  It rises to a height of  20 or 30 feet along the shores of a tributary of the Thaya River. Established in 12th century, UNESCO has named this city as one of the eight most significant cultural sites in the Czech Republic.   It’s value lies in its incorporation of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture and, of course, that the wars have left this more isolated village unscathed.

After walking through one part of the city and checking out the Guesthouses we settled for the dining room at the Hotel Celerin ><, a restaurant near the south end of the town’s square.  Here we dined on typical Czech fare.   Since it was a partly cloudy and windy day we chose a table near the corner window inside the restaurant rather than on the patio. It was hard to resist the delicious collection of desserts in the display case but we consoled ourselves by promising each other that it would taste better after a long walk through the city and a climb up the steeple stairs to the church bell tower. .

Al and Sue Liebetrau our hosts had checked out the area before coming and had also talked with friends at the UN about the attractions of this city.  Crystal and glass are particular items sold here at very reasonable prices. Minerals and antiques are a close second and then the normal kitsch---clothes, electronics, trinkets, carpets, etc. 

Since the city has become somewhat of a tourist attraction there were crowds of people in every shop.  Performing in the middle of the square was a native Czech Dance Group tantalizing the audience with the swift movement of their feet and the lively music of a little combo..

 After about an hour and the completion of the ascent to the bell tower, we set out on a stroll around the city wall to a marvelous park filled with flowers of every color.  As we strolled, the babble of different languages continues to confuse me and I am still no better at distinguishing Czech from Turkish or Slovakian from Hungarian even after almost a year here in the central part of Europe. However, I am starting to understand a bit more of this German I listen to all of the time in the street and on the subway.  

Having rested our muscles and refurbished our bellies with good old Vienna city water which we had brought along in old soda bottles, we decided to take a cut-off trail through the ruins of an old building.   The trail led to a path along the river, but here we encountered a tent village with many, many campers, mostly young people, but some couples with children as well.  

As I gazed upon the city across the river from the park and campground, I had no trouble imagining the cold war era.  Along the Thaya River to the south of this city, on a high promontory on the Austria side would be another scenic overlook.  Now both of these are overlooks are equipped with roofs and benches, so looking back a few years I can see in my mind's eye the Austrians and Czechs surveying each other with binoculars and probably wishing that this foolish wall would come down so that they could go talk to their neighbors again. 

And now, in 2000 the wall is down; the fences have been removed; a bridge has been built; the gates are opened; the people are crossing and criss-crossing formerly forbidden territory and the border guards do not have any ostentatious display of weaponry. What a change in 10 years. And the Czechs will probably be one of the first former east-block countries to gain entrance into the European Union. 

After enjoying the view of Telsch from the park across the river we headed for that dessert menu at a little Cafe on the border and ordered up our Cappuccinos, ice coffees, and coffee mélanges', this time from a pleasant dining room in a brand new facility.  

The skies were now clear as setting sun ushered in the stillness of its evening repose. A few tired pilgrims from another world could review again the strange events and twists and turns that have brought us to another section of the globe. Our short little moments of repose are only a small snippet in the adventures of princes and counts and ladies in waiting who have occupied this place since 1200 a.d. but it was sufficient for us to draw a mental picture and hear the voices of the past speak to us from over the centuries. 

Soon our day in the country was at an end. Sue and Al dropped us off at a subway entrance near their house and we headed back to the apartment where I could continue to wrestle with the text for Sunday's sermon.